The final scoreline of 6-2 has a certain sting to it, considering the Ducks are coming off a loss by that margin to the second from bottom in Atlantic Division Florida Panthers at home on Sunday evening. It's also what it read the last time Ducks players look up at the scoreboard at Honda Center in the postseason, the final time multiple European greats donned the black, orange and gold of Anaheim. With John Gibson chased from the cage and the careers of Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu all but over, it was up to Jonas Hiller to endure the final 37:58 of what would be his 352nd and final game with the Ducks. Unceremoniously outed from the crease at the start of the playoffs in favor of Frederik Andersen, Hiller would relieve him twice in the Dallas series including the decisive sixth game, then lose the first two against Los Angeles before being relegated to injury-replacement status in the third game and mop up duty in the finale. Now resurrected in Calgary, Hiller has earned the starters role from Karri Ramo and helped lead the Flames to a surprising start that sees them sitting in a playoff spot approaching the quarter pole of the season.
For the Ducks Sunday night can be looked at as the after effects of an intense home-and-home set with arch rival Los Angeles, with an unfortunate letdown on the second end of a back-to-back. Anaheim still finds itself tops in the Pacific Division while beginning to get healthy with the returns of Corey Perry and Kyle Palmieri to the lineup against the Panthers, and Francois Beauchemin returning to practice with the squad on Monday after dealing with the mumps. Yet the team hasn't won a regulation contest since Jason LaBarbera's emergency start in a 3-2 win over the Avalanche on November 2. A 1-1-4 skid has managed to keep picking up points, but the offense remains a concern having scored more than two goals only twice in the past ten games. Ryan Getzlaf has already gone through a longer scoreless streak (four games from October 26-31) than at any point last season, and has five goals amongst his team leading 17 points in 18 games. Ryan Kesler has picked up some of the slack in Perry's absence, having a five game point streak ended against the Panthers. Andersen has seen his numbers come back to earth as well, going through his first real rough patch of the season having given up ten goals on the last 62 shots he's faced over three games.
Meanwhile, Calgary has been one of the pleasant surprise stories in the league riding the goaltending of Hiller as well as a production of one of the best defensemen that doesn't get enough national ink in Mark Giordano. Giordano leads the team with 21 points (6 goals and 15 assists) in 19 games, and has collected a point in each of his last nine games while being held off the score sheet just four games all season. Fellow defenseman TJ Brodie is second on the team in scoring with four goals and 11 assists for 15 points. Hiller has had a renaissance of sorts, posting a .922 save percentage and earning a point in nine of his 13 starts, with eight of those being wins. He's posted an above-.900 save percentage in nine starts, including a 49-save performance in a shootout win at Chicago on October 15 as well as recording his first shutout with the Flames against Carolina on October 23. Calgary has won three of the four games Hiller has made over 30 saves, and eight of the 29 goals he's allowed have come on the power play. Sean Monahan has been anything but boring, leading the team with seven goals while Jiri Hudler and Johnny Gaudreau have topped the forwards with 14 and 12 points respectively, and Gaudreau leading the team with a pair of game-winners.
What Can We Learn From this Game:
With the solid start that Calgary has experienced there are already warning columns being written about the sustainability of such play. However, the Ducks more than anyone should be familiar with Hiller's ability to keep a sorely out-possessed team in games that the shot attempt numbers would say they really shouldn't be. Much of Calgary's success has come against the Eastern Conference or teams who missed the playoffs last season, and save for the shootout win against Chicago they have yet to take another from one of the West's previous year postseason qualifiers. For Anaheim's part this is the proverbial four-point game in the division against a team currently in playoff seating that they took the season series from last year, but also took one hard on the chin against late in the season. After a flat effort in every aspect of the game against Florida, we'll see how big the Ducks can bounce back as important faces return to the lineup.
Giordano thinks twice about mixing it up with Perry or Beauchemin, and gets his points streak snapped. The same people who clutched the pearls on Twitter about U2 being played with Hiller between the pipes can now appreciate the musical pun and have a slight chuckle about it. Anaheim doesn't surrender seven goals like one of their more recent trips to the Saddledome last season. More folks will take up making ridiculous jokes about Clayton Stoner if he plays as he did against the Panthers.